450 Sutter Street – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura

450 Sutter Street

Nestled in the heart of San Francisco’s bustling Financial District stands a unique homage to the Mayan and Beaux Arts. 


Designed by prolific San Francisco architect Timothy L. Pflueger, the 26-story medical and dental office building at 450 Sutter Street is nothing short of a shimmering jewel.

The facade, with its Mayan-inspired bas-relief terra cotta spandrels is intriguing, but the real magic is in the lobby. Pull open the enormous bronze and glass doors and you will be greeted by crested ceilings lined with carved and cast bronze panels depicting Mayan characters and designs. The form of the ceiling itself mirrors the corbelled vaulting the Maya used. At the apex of the ceiling, those designs are lined in red, a reference to the Mayan ritual of blood sacrifice.

The massive elevator doors are clad in more Mayan designs, this time in a darker bronze, and flanked by walls of Grande Melange marble, elaborate cornices and intricately detailed bronze frieze. All these polished surfaces shimmer and glisten in light cast by Art Deco ceiling fixtures and a stained glass window above the main doors.

There is one section of the ceiling that has a very distinct difference in color. After smoking in buildings was banned, the entire lobby was scrubbed. However, the owners chose to leave the evidence of decades of tar as a dingy reminder to all who notice. 

450 Sutter Street was completed in 1929 and at that time was the second tallest building in San Francisco. Since then it has been lauded by architects and artists as one of the most unique and beautiful buildings in the city, and it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2009. Today in addition to its offices it is also home to a deli, a bank, a gym and conference facilities. It is open 24/7 and has friendly and informative security guards on duty, happy to relay some of the finer points of the architecture and more interesting pieces of its history.

On a sad note, its talented architect, who is respected for his many beautiful buildings throughout the Bay Area including The Castro and Paramount movie theaters, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1946 at the age of 54, undoubtedly taking many more exquisite designs with him.

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